Family Health|Seniors
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Housing Options for Seniors

Last Updated April 2022 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

A senior living community is a place where older adults live. There are many types of senior living communities. Each one provides different services. The services are based on the lifestyle and health care needs of the residents.

Path to improved health

People choose to move into senior living communities for different reasons. Some move because they are lonely and want to be around other older adults. Some older adults can’t take care of their home and need help with daily tasks. Others move because their family can’t provide a safe environment or proper medical care. Below are some options for senior living.

Active adult communities

Active adult communities are neighborhoods made for older adults. They can be made up of houses or townhouses. Or they may include apartments, condos, or mobile homes. In most communities, adults have to be 55 years of age or older to live there. Residents are fully independent. They have no trouble living on their own. They take care of themselves and manage their homes.

This option allows active and able older adults to live on their own but near each other. Many of these communities offer a range of social, recreational, and educational activities.

Independent living communities

Independent living communities are known as retirement communities or retirement homes. Older adults can rent or buy their own units in one of these places. Meals often are included in retirement homes. Housekeeping, laundry, and transportation may be available, as well. Most residents can take care of themselves. They don’t need help with daily tasks, such as bathing, getting dressed, or taking medicine.

This option may be a good fit for older adults who feel lonely living alone. Residents enjoy community living with others. They are fairly active and independent but enjoy services such as housekeeping and prepared meals.

Assisted living residences

Assisted living residences are similar to independent living communities. However, they also offer personal care services to residents in need. These may include bathing, getting dressed, or taking medicine. Some residences include special units for people who have early- to middle-stage dementia.

This option might be a good fit for older adults who are somewhat active but need help with daily tasks.

Nursing homes

Nursing homes are also known as skilled nursing or extended care facilities. They provide services as well as medical care. Nursing homes are staffed with nurses and other health professionals around the clock. Some older adults stay here temporarily. This could be to recover from a fall, health condition, or surgery. Other adults may need to stay long-term.

This option is for people who need 24-hour personal and medical care. This type of care often can’t be provided at home or in another senior living facility. Medicare together with Medicaid cover most nursing home services including short-term rehabilitation stays.

Continuing care retirement communities

Continuing care retirement communities meet the needs of a lot of older adults. They feature a variety of residences on a large campus. Residents can choose independent living, assisted living, or nursing home services. As their needs change over time, they can move to a residence that offers more assistance or medical care.

This option can work for many older adults. It lets them benefit from services right away while planning for their future. These communities allow older adults to live in one place for the rest of their lives. This is the most expensive of all senior living options. Residents must be able to sign a contract and pay for services now to be used at a later date.

Things to consider

Moving to a senior living community can be hard. It’s normal for this transition to bring up emotions for the older adults and their family members. You should include others in the decision. Talk to family and/or friends. Your doctor can help discuss the pros and cons of senior living options. They can help you decide when and where to go. Some older adults may be unable to decide due to health reasons. In this case, family or other caregivers will have to make the best choice.

There are a lot of things to consider in choosing a senior living community. It must fit your needs and finances. The following steps can help in this process.

  • Set a realistic financial budget. Be sure to consider the finances of any family members who will be contributing.
  • Make a list of all of your physical, medical, and emotional needs. Decide which senior living community meets these needs.
  • Find residences in your area using the U.S. Administration for Community Living’s Eldercare Locator.
  • Schedule a tour with local residences. While there, use the Senior Housing Tour Checklist to help you evaluate the residence.
  • Read the housing contract carefully. You may want to review it with a lawyer.
  • After completing this process, talk over all options with your family and inform them about your long-care decisions. They may be able to help you choose a residence that’s right for you. 

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do I know if I’m ready, or if my parent is ready, for a senior living community?
  • What types of medical care or assistance do I need?
  • Do I need to be in a senior living community short-term or long-term? 


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Eldercare Locator

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